ENNIS — In what weighs the equivalent of three 50-pound cement bags, an adult Great Dane or a complete set of the Oxford English Dictionary, one local gardener has grown a watermelon that tips the food scales.
The melon checks in at a whopping 154 pounds.
“People have been blown away, and most of them have never seen anything like this,” laughed Joey Grmela, a self-proclaimed "melonologist." “There’s a lot of people whose mouths drop when they see it.”
“And this monster will eat just as good as any other melon, it’s probably better than the regular watermelons, but you’ll probably need about 40 people to eat one,” he chuckled.
Only taking 50 days for the monster melon to reach 154-pounds, shocked onlookers continue to stare at its Goliath-like size sitting on display at the entrance of the Ennis HEB.
“Each year he [Grmela] learns something different through trial and error,” expressed Kelley Barnes, HEB’s Market Manager, about the second annual display.
“And the day we brought it into the store, the Tuesday before last, it took us 45-minutes to bring it back to my department because of the fact that every customer wanted to take a picture of it,” he described.
What started as a hobby over a decade ago, soon grew, literally, into a competition contender and the crowning harvest of Ellis County.
“This is the second time we put his [Grmela’s] watermelons on display,” Barnes recalled. “Last year he said, ‘Would you be interested in putting one of them on display?’ And when I saw it for the first time I was like, ‘Holy crow! That thing’s a monster!’ And it doesn’t look real.”
Though Grmela anticipated his 154-pound watermelon to reach full fruition of nearing 200-pounds, a rabbit got into his garden and chewed the main vine, forcing the melon to be put on display a week early.
“It’s pretty insane what he goes through just to grow one watermelon,” Barnes acknowledged.
“It’s definitely a hobby that will keep you busy,” Grmela admitted. “You kind of have to baby them for a while. So you have to have the right seeds to start off with, then in March I start with germinating them in my house in the closet at about 90-degrees, and they come up beautiful, and then I put them in the ground for about five weeks.”
“But if it’s too cold you’ve got to cover them, and this goes on and on and on,” he described his process. “I would say you have to spend about an hour a day doing this for about five or six months.”
Grmela couldn’t grow his watermelons larger than 80-pounds when he first began, so he joined the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC), a competition organization, that connected this self-taught learner to others who could help him exceed the 100-pound mark.
With his newfound wisdom, Grmela developed his craft over the years, taking his next single prized melon to a whole new level, building a greenhouse to protect it from “Mother Nature.”
“It’s a competition against mother nature also," Grmela laughed. "Weather and temperature affect it, spider mites, fungus from not enough sun, that’s why I built my greenhouse for the monster I got in there right now."
“So I built the greenhouse myself - welded it, put the concrete into the ground with a steel frame and clear plastic – the whole works. That’s for my next one, which I’m looking at 200-pounds, maybe more,” he predicted the already 170-pound melon.
Taking the display on the road, Grmela noted that his hobby has taken root in the GPC’s worldwide competition, being the only competitor from Texas within the watermelon category.
“I got into competitions outside of Texas, because Texas doesn’t do very much with stuff like this,” Grmela explained. “All the northern and eastern states, and Italy and Spain, they’re serious about it, and they’ve got monsters, but I’m catching up with them.”
Currently placed as thirtieth in the world and hopes to rank even higher in the next weigh-off at Missouri’s competition in October, Grmela swears the key to his success is found in the seeds.
“It’s all in the seeds,” Grmela confirmed. “If you have large watermelon seeds, you’re going to have a large watermelon. Because these watermelons grow over 5-pounds a day and in the other states they grow them to about 300-pounds.”
“The bigger they are, the more seeds they produce, which means more money,” he simplified why size makes a difference. “On my 150-pound one, the seeds are worth $3 a piece, for the 200-pound one it’s $5 a piece, and each watermelon has 600 seeds in it, so you can imagine how much they’re worth,” he noted.
With last year’s watermelon only weighing in at 134-pounds, Grmela has far exceeded his personal best with the current melon on display, expecting his next one to be even better when it will show in late October.
“I’ve got three weeks before Missouri’s competition where I’ll present the 200-pound one. In Missouri, there’s going to be 10,000 people out there with about 500 vendors, and it’s pretty fun and neat to see, so I’m hoping to place pretty good this year."
“And after I take my 170-pound watermelon, which I’m expecting will be 200-pounds by then, to Missouri, we’re thinking about putting it on display at HEB and swapping it out with the smaller one,” he added. “So that’ll be later in October for about three weeks.”
Until next month’s larger presentation, both Grmela and Barnes encourage the community to swing by the store to see the massive, 154-pound Ellis County monster melon.
“It’s important to acknowledge people in the community who do things like this,” Barnes heartened. “People who find out that Joey put it in there come to the store just to see it. So you’ve really got to see it in person to understand how big this thing is because it’s huge.”
“Go and take a picture with it,” Grmela encouraged with a chuckle. “I’m just grateful HEB has been really great about putting my watermelon on display, and I thank them for the recognition.”
To view the 154-pound watermelon, visit Ennis’ HEB on 101 South Clay Street, Ennis. For more information on the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, visit bigpumpkins.com.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer